5 ways product managers can boost communication

Luke Grimstrup

Communication is a vital leadership skill that underpins all product management activities, yet it’s all too common to see examples of leading through authority and it can be quite demoralising.

While personally reflecting on this topic a bit, here are 4 pointers I have for product leaders looking to improve their leadership and communication skills.

1. Solve problems together as a team

Problems are solved faster as a team. When PMs receive feedback and solicit requirements from customers or internal stakeholders, it’s tempting to come up with solutions and workarounds on the spot.

Make an effort to solving problems with the team that will eventually end up implementing any solution. In John Cutler’s post on the evolving role of the Product Manager, the first section of the diagram indicates we’re moving away from being an authority and proxy for the customer, to facilitators of the discussion that enables people smarter than ourselves to identify the simplest path to a solution.

2. Be open with learnings and close the loop

As an extension from the first point, it’s important to share impact, results, learnings back with the team, for the team to stay informed of other team’s learnings too. Marty Cagan has a good post on communicating product learnings.

Lean Startup promotes the idea of build-measure-learn, and Design Thinking promotes the idea of empathise-define-ideate-prototype-test but it’s vital that product managers are on point and ensure they close the loop by championing learnings around the organisation.

3. Broadcast one-way updates, allow for more in-depth Q&A sessions

By broadcasting updates in advance, you are allowing people to digest information and make regular scheduled meetings more productive. You’ll then be able to stay focused on Q&A, resolving issues and challenges. Solving any new issues as a team (going back to first point).

Solutions such as enform.io allow you to be send updates on a regular basis, humans are creatures of habit, esablishing a rhythm for sending updates allows people to predict when they are likely to receive the latest insights from you. Ultimately, this will save time, enable meetings to be more productive as well as allow you to keep interested stakeholders informed.

4. Reflect and Improve

Embracing a culture of continuous improvement helps to grow as a team. For software scrum teams the retrospective is the baked into the way those teams work, but I have found value in extending this to beyond scrum teams and applying retrospectives to cross-functional initiatives (such as marketing campaigns, company-wide initiatives, or a cross-team collaboration) to identify opportunities for improvement next time.

When setting out to reflect and improve, team members need to be able to be open and have the psychological safety to voice their opinion, take risks, ask lots of questions, and have a growth mindset. Google’s Project Aristotle promotes psychological safety as a necessary requirement for high performing teams.

In the end, a lot of comes down to sharing information in a timely manner with the right audience. With your team, it’s about sharing the context behind the problem. With other groups, being open with learnings and closing the loop by sharing. With interested parties, share updates and allow for more in-depth dialogues as ideas are everywhere. Finally, embrace a culture of reflection and continuous improvement.

Enform helps product and technology leaders keep peers and stakeholders up to date on progress from anywhere, enabling quick updates that connect outputs to outcomes with the added insight product leaders can often overlay on top.

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